Get more from your rangefinder

by Tim Watts | August 10, 2021
Rangefinder In A Tent

Today’s bowhunters have a huge amount of technology available to help them be more successful. From compound bows with higher let-off to carbon-fibre arrows, technology in the archery industry has grown immensely over the last few years.

Arguably, the most important innovation has been the laser rangefinder. What an incredible invention! With the push of a button, an archer instantly learns the distance to the target. One of our biggest obstacles has been taken out of the equation.

Through trial and error, I’ve found these tips helpful in getting the most out of my rangefinder.

rangefinder pins
It really helps to match flag and pin colours

1. Sight your pins to the rangefinder’s reading, not the true distance

It’s important to synchronize your bow with how you measure distances in the field. That way, your pin settings will match your rangefinder readings. Some bowhunters use a long landscaper’s tape, or set distances at an archery range to sight in pins.

This is fine if you are shooting to accurately measured distances, but in the bush, we have to rely on a rangefinder which can have some variance, and quite possibly be one or two yards off a measured distance. You should set your pins to the reading on the rangefinder that you will be using in the field, not a tape measure.

When you get a day to practise this, go out and try it. Matching your sight pins to the rangefinder will increase your accuracy, especially at longer ranges.

2. Flag it ahead of time

When I get a day to scout, I take coloured flag­ging tape with me. I’m comfortable shooting up to 40 yards in a hunting situation and my bowhunting sight has three pins on it. I use a green pin for 20 yards, yellow for 30, and red for 40. The flags and flagging tape I use match those pin colours. I like to have three primary shooting directions, usually at 9, 12, and 3 o’clock when setting up on a field edge. This has worked particularly well for me when hunting turkey from a ground blind.

Sometimes, a turkey will run into your set-up so fast you won’t have time to use the rangefinder. That’s where the stakes and tape come in handy. The colour-coded stakes will show you how far the bird is at a glance. You won’t have to waste time using the range­finder, and can concentrate on making the shot.

If my ground blind or tree stand set-up is in the woods, I’ll use the flagging tape, as ground-level flags may be hard to see with the under­growth of the forest. I’ll also clear multiple shooting lanes. That way I have reference points, no mat­ter which way the animal approaches the set-up.

Once you’ve cleared your shooting lanes, attach the colour coordinated flagging tape to trees at eye level. It will be considerably easier to place the flagging tape if you take a buddy with you. Have someone sit in the tree stand or ground blind and confirm that they see the tape. If you’re alone, put the tape out and then climb into the blind or stand to see if the tape needs to be relocated. You may have to repeat the process several times to get the tape in the right spot.

3. If you can’t flag it, range key features

If I’m a guest on someone’s hunting property, I obviously don’t have time to put out stakes or flag­ging tape. In this situation, I range things that visu­ally stick out, such as an old stump or a large rock.

Tree-stand hunting is very different from ground-blind hunting, so if I’m in a tree stand on an afternoon hunt, I immediately range the features I can see from the stand. If I’m hunting a morning set-up, I wait until I have enough light, then make sure there are no ani­mals around before I use the rangefinder, as every movement increases the chance of being spotted.

Hunting from a ground blind allows consider­ably more movement and you can usually range a deer or turkey from one without being spotted. Still, I like to range objects before the moment of truth arrives.

If you need to range an animal, make sure it’s moving when you do. If a deer is walking, you can get away with a little movement, but if you move while it’s standing still it will probably see you. Busted, game over.

4. Save some cash

When purchasing a rangefinder, do your research. Customer reviews are really helpful in determin­ing what you need. Rangefinders have a wide vari­ety of features, and you may not need them all. If you’re primarily a bow hunter, you don’t need to range a thousand yards out. A unit that measures to about 400 yards is more than you will ever need, and will usually sell for about half as much as the longer range unit.

Early on in my bowhunting days I was busted more than once for using my rangefinder at the wrong time. Being prepared for the shot before it even happens has dramatically increased my suc­cess rate.

Good luck on your next outdoor adventure.

Originally published in Ontario OUT of DOORS’ 2019 Hunting Annual.

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